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The mysterious 'Orphan Annie' dime

Why are the 1844 Seated Liberty dimes scarce, especially in higher grades? According to some, they were lost in the Great Chicago Fire. Others claimed it was bandits who made off with the coins, buried them, and then went to their graves not revealing the true location of the loot.

It’s amazing how many times throughout U.S. coinage history wild theories like these have been used to explain the scarcity of a coin.1844Orphananniedime.jpg

The 1844, known to collectors as the “Orphan Annie” dime (for having lost its mates), is replete with these colorful tall tales. The main story was one of war and lost love and went something like this:

Needing money to pay the soldiers mustered for a military expedition into Mexico, the Army’s paymaster requisitioned a large supply of small change for the soldiers to use, which happened to be 1844-dated dimes.

Once in Mexico’s capital, the soldiers became homesick and longed for female companionship. It was then that a clever one of their number came upon a plan to attract the local senoritas. Noticing they liked to wear fancy bangles, he fashioned some bracelets using the 1844 dimes.

It worked. A booming enterprise followed, as others in his company stumbled over each other, lining up to buy the bracelets. Not a single 1844 dime escaped the love-starved rush.

When the soldiers came home, the bracelets stayed behind. The soldiers were soon forgotten, the bracelets melted, and the silver was minted into Mexican coins.

The lost love story is just one of many theories advanced over the years to explain why, of an original mintage of 72,500 coins, fewer than might be expected survived.

 Other tantalizing tales were:

  • The coins were improperly alloyed, so most of the mintage was melted by the U.S. Mint.
  • The entire issue had been bought up by a speculator, few survived.
  • A bank in New Orleans requisitioned Washington for $5,000 in dimes.
  • Fifty thousand were shipped by boat, but lost in a storm.
  • The coins were lost in the Great Chicago Fire.
  • The dimes gravitated to Pennsylvania and were swept away in the Great Johnstown Flood.
  • Seventy thousand of the coins were sent overland to the forty-niners in California via the Santa Fee Trail. Along the way, the coins were seized by bandits who hid the loot. The bandits were later killed, taking knowledge of the secret hiding place with them for eternity to their graves.

I like the last of these best. However, I leave it to others to go digging. Besides, for about $550, you can get one for your collection in Fine-12 from a dealer, without all of the work.

You can read more about the “Orphan Annie” dime in story by Tom LaMarre in the September issue of Coins magazine.

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One Response to The mysterious 'Orphan Annie' dime

  1. I would like to tell you about an 1844 dime that was considered my best coin find. It fits into a this story of lost 1844 dimes because I helped contribute in a way to the loss of one of them. When I was about 10 or 11 in the early 80’s my mother had gotten me interested in coins not long after they had stolen her coins. I had some money and a friend of mine went with me to a dealer that was looking at selling coins. My friend and I each bought a 2 cent piece. However I noticed this dime he was selling. I looked at it and it was priced for only 2 dollars. I saw that it was an 1844 dime. For the age of the coin I naively bought it. I went home and I thought it might be worth something. I looked at it and realized through a magazine it WAS rare and valuable. I cherished it like a parent or so it seemed. I played with it, I cleaned it, misplaced it under the carpet only to find it weeks later but I loved it. Later on, I was crazed with video games and decided I had to have a Nintendo when a neighbor had one. I decided to sell all my coins and they were only buying silver a 4 times face but I had enough to buy the Nintendo. I thought long and hard as to whether I should part with the dime, but a kids urge for a Nintendo won me over so there it went. In the end, I was left with neither as not long after, someone broke into my house and robbed the Nintendo system. To this day that VG/F 1844 dime might have gone to the melting pot as was most likely the fate of most of the others in that day. I have been really wanting to tell this story and get it off my chest to warn others to really be careful with your coins and to not be so quick to part with it. Someday I hope to buy another one at and cherish that one with much better care.

    Roland Castaneda

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